Vancouver attorney Ryan D. Whitaker was entrusted as a spiritual teacher to the children at the St. Johns Ward Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Instead, Clark County prosecutors allege, Whitaker, 59, betrayed that trust and sexually abused a 9-year-old Sunday school student within church walls.
In the second day of Whitaker’s trial in Clark County Superior Court on charges of first-degree rape of a child, the alleged victim testified how Whitaker allegedly molested her multiple times in 2011 as she sat in Sunday school classes.
The girl, now 10, wore a pale pink dress and clutched a plush pony as she took the stand. She testified Tuesday that during a period of several months, Whitaker regularly sat next her in the back of a Sunday school classroom. Then, during services, he would reach under her skirt and touch her private parts, she said. He sometimes used a coat or jacket to conceal what he was doing from other students and teachers in the room, she said.
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Dustin Richardson asked her to recount details, such as clothes she was wearing or music that was playing, about specific occasions when the alleged abuse occurred.
She said she remembered one time, another teacher was leading the hymn “I’m A Child of God” when Whitaker touched her. Another time, she recalled, she was wearing a red skirt with white polka dots.
Initially, she said, she thought Whitaker was just massaging her.
“After a while, I didn’t,” she said.
She said she finally told her mother about the alleged abuse after Whitaker asked her if the touching made her feel “weird.”
“I was thinking about it most of the day and wondering what I should do,” she said. She said she told her mother the same evening.
Whitaker’s defense attorney, Josephine Townsend, cross-examined the girl on inconsistencies between her court testimony and transcripts of interviews during the investigation and discovery.
For instance, in court, the girl testified that Whitaker touched her when another teacher was present. In an interview transcript, she reportedly said he touched her only when the other teacher was absent.
Townsend also challenged her on court testimony that most of the touching happened from behind. In another transcript, she had stated most of the touching had happened from the front.
“Why did you change your story?” Townsend asked.
“I didn’t think I did,” she replied. She cried silently during the exchange, and Judge Robert Lewis recessed the court for a break.
After the judge left the courtroom, Townsend also started to weep.
The alleged victim’s mother took the stand next. She described the night her daughter told her about the alleged abuse.
“I was very shocked and asked her if she understood the seriousness of what she was saying,” the mother said. “She said she did.”
She said Whitaker’s behavior, in retrospect, seemed suspicious. When the mother went to the Sunday school classroom to pick up her daughter early for a family day, Whitaker allegedly said, “‘Oh, family stuff can wait, can’t it?'” the mother testified.
During a church Easter event, she said, her daughter left her sister and wandered off with Whitaker. The mother said she didn’t know where her daughter was and was beginning to panic when she found her in the gymnasium. Whitaker had his arm around the girl, the mother testified.
The trial began Monday with an opening statement by prosecutors. The defense waived an opening statement.
Townsend said Whitaker has not yet decided whether he will take the stand. The trial continues today and the judge will decide the verdict, as there is no jury in this case.